​Switch off stress, switch on digestion

Nutritionist Stephanie Moore believes wholeheartedly that there is very little that the body cannot overcome given the right support. She feels that our bodies have the most amazing capacity for healing. Her philosophy focuses on an ‘integrated health’ approach – that is making sure to look at all aspects of health to gradually come to a place of personal wellbeing and balance. This will include things like nutrients and diet, but also rest, relaxation and state of mind.

So, what happens to your body when you are stressed? Stress is a burden on the body and it will have to work to address the imbalance created. Stress means the body struggles to react as it should for optimum health. Crucially, too, this is where gut health could be adversely affected.

Stephanie has a lot of experience in dealing with the various barriers that can affect digestive health. We wanted to focus on stress and the gut so she gave us some wise words on how important it is to reduce stress for gut health.

When we are stressed - rushing, distracted, busy on the computer or driving a car we are in ‘flight or flight’ mode. This is a primal response to stress that means our nervous system is prepared for action. It is held in readiness. Consequently, our digestive function is on hold.

Your body will not be expecting you to eat when you are in fight or flight mode, as this state requires action, not eating. We need to activate an entirely different part of the nervous system in order to engage the many complex actions involved in digestion, so eating when stressed can cause digestive distress. Over time, IBS can develop.

If you eat when stressed, your digestive function is severely impaired, resulting in poorly digested food. Saliva, which contains enzymes for breaking down carbohydrates, is reduced. Production of HCL acid (stomach acid), essential for digesting protein and killing nasty bacteria in our food, is also limited. In addition, digestive enzymes and the peristaltic movement that allows food to get broken down and passed through the digestive tract properly, are all significantly lacking when stressed. This simply means you CANNOT digest and absorb your food properly.

Poorly digested proteins and pathogenic bacteria that have survived due to low stomach acid can result in bloating, abdominal pain/cramping, foul-smelling wind, constipation and/or diarrhoea, all symptoms of IBS of course.

So how can we help to reduce these issues? Take the time to pause before starting to eat and focus on your food. Allow the food smells to register with your brain, which will trigger saliva production and prepare your body for food. Take a few slow deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth. Doing all this means you will be calming down the body, switching off ‘fight and flight’, and turning on the ‘rest and digest’ mode. This will ensure your processes of digestion are fully activated, allowing better nourishment from your food and less irritation of your gut.

Thank you Stephanie, we are going to be applying all these tips when we are eating our packed lunches here in the office from now on!